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Rain Forest (Government Policy)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Fallon.]

11.49 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : This has been a good parliamentary day for the rain forests when the chairman of the 1922 committee chose to use his question to the Prime Minister on that subject. It is a reflection of his own interests, which I respect, in conservation. It is a reflection, too, of the work done by television companies in programmes like "The Fragile Earth", and the work of the Friends of the Earth and many others who have raised the consciousness of this important subject of the tropical rain forest. I wish to put some questions of which I have given the Minister and the Department notice. First, on Nepal, can anything be done about the urgent problem whereby, on account of relations with India, Nepal is so short of fuel that it has to cut down more of its forests than has been happening over the last few months? Could not something be done to help in the Gurkha situation which reached a climax with yesterday's statement?

Secondly, on Papua New Guinea, is there a case for helping those areas of the world that have rain forest that have passed laws where, if any tree is removed, another tree is planted? Those laws may be difficult to implement in the light of what the Japanese are doing in the island of New Guinea. May I recommend to the Minister a remarkable book by Evelyne Hong on the natives of Sarawak and the survival of Borneo's vanishing rain forest? Those of us who remember confrontation and were out there might reflect, as Michael Blair, who recommended the book to me and veterans of confrontation have done, that they did not risk their lives in order to see interesting peoples like the Punans and the Sea Dayaks being deprived of their eco- system. There is a moral issue involved.

Thirdly, I asked about the directives to the World Bank. I hope that the Minister will be able to make a statement. I put it as my personal controversial opinion that the World Bank should be able to make loans for nuclear stations. Many of my hon. Friends do not agree with this. I refer to the Minister's answer on 4 May :

"The development committee of the IMF/IBRD has already agreed to discuss environmental issues at its next meeting in September. Meanwhile, the World Bank is intensifying its work on these issues, including its role in the tropical forestry action plan.

The role of nuclear power is considered within the energy development plans of a few IBRD borrowing countries but its cost, high technology and demand on scarce human resources make it generally inappropriate at present for the vast majority of developing countries."--[ Official Report, 4 May 1989 ; Vol. 152, c. 189. ]

That may be true, but the position in southern Brazil is different. It is immoral that the western world should get Brazil into deepening debt for nuclear power stations that are working at far from optimum capacity.

Fourthly, the Amar Indian chiefs Megaron and Payakan were my guests in the House of Commons. I took them to meet Mr. Speaker, for which I thank him. I also know that they saw the Minister. Perhaps he will reflect on his meeting with them.

Fifthly, I gave notice that I would ask what the attitude of the Government was in involving the European Community. I reflect that last week I was on an official

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delegation that had an audience with the King of Spain. I had the opportunity to ask Juan Carlos about the subject in the presence of our ambassador, Lord Nicholas Gordon Lennox. Is there any way in which we can persuade the Spaniards, who cut much ice in South America--even in Portuguese South America--to help with the problem of the rain forests?

My sixth question, about climate, comes from the Friends of the Earth's Charles Secrett and Koi Thomson. What can the Government do to help Brazil come to terms with the burning season, which is from early July to October? I am glad that Ghillean Prance, the director of Kew, and Ron Kemp and Tim Sinnott should be going out for the Department. Could we adopt a system like that of the United States, and have a check list of human rights and environmental criteria for evaluating proposed loans, taking into account whether the projects for which they are sought are environmentally sustainable? We must think in terms of providing guaranteed access to satellite imagery, and help with interpretation, so that the rain forest countries can know what is going on--what forests are being destroyed, and why. Most rain forest countries' Governments face difficulties, and assistance must be given in a non-interventionist way. On 11 May, the Prime Minister answered :

"The further assistance which we are currently discussing with the Brazilian Government with respect to the protection of the rain forests is likely to be in the area of technical co-operation rather than capital aid for equipment like helicopters."--[ Official Report, 11 May 1989 ; Vol. 152, c. 490. ]

The Prime Minister, helicopters and I do not usually mix, but at the top of the Brazilians' list of requirements are four large cargo helicopters and two personnel carrying helicopters. They also say they need fire fighting planes, twin engined planes, gliders, vehicles, trailers, tank lorries, equipment-carrying lorries, trailer-pulling vehicles, boats for the establishment of bases, hard-hulled boats for sub-bases, hard-hulled boats, low draught fliers, camping material, and a radio and communication system. When Mr. Mesquite, the Brazilian Minister for the north, saw me in Brasilia, this was the list that he had in mind. We should take it into account.

Finally, I gave the Minister notice that I would refer to the New Scientist leading article of 20 May 1989, which states :

"Now it is the turn of the poor countries to expand. If the populations of the Third World are to be supported in their present and projected numbers, they must industrialise. The question is how. If they follow Europe and America--inefficiently burning large amounts of cheap coal and oil, demolishing forests and using inexpensive, chlorinated hydrocarbons for everything from pesticides to refrigerators--we will all drown, or fry together.

In Helsinki, China sought an international fund to help it to replace ozone -threatening chemicals with safe ones. The Chinese are not holding the planet to ransom. They know we are all in this together, and they want to use clean technology. But they will not be able to impose more expensive technology on an already hard pressed population when cheaper technology is to be had.

The same applies to India, Brazil and the other poor giants whose farms, factories and populations will one day control the fate of the atmosphere. And yet, Ridley, and his counterparts in the EEC, bitterly opposed such a fund in Helsinki."

What is the Government's attitude to accepting some moral responsibility? The rain forest countries may naturally be proud of their sovereignty, but rain forests are part of a world problem.

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I shall cut short my remarks, to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who has played a distinguished role in this area, a chance to speak. I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Do I understand that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has the agreement of both the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the Minister to speak?

11.58 pm

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I thank the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). It is a welcome tribute to my hon. Friend that so many hon. Members are here for the debate.

My hon. Friend has pointed out a fundamental problem that the whole world is facing, and that the British Government and the British Parliament can assist in solving.

I have tabled a number of questions to the Prime Minister on the subject of the rain forests. Today's asked :

"what information she has received concerning the rate of destruction of the world's forests for each of the past 20 years ; and if she will make a statement."

The answer she gave was that she did not have the information for the whole of that period but

"the latest internationally comparable figures were published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation in 1982 and relate to tropical forests during the period 1976-80."

So this is quite some time ago. The destruction rates were--in Africa 1.33 million hectares a year or 0.61 per cent. of the total ; in Asia and the Pacific, 1.82 million hectares a year, or 0.59 per cent. of the total ; and in Latin America, 4.12 million hectares, or 0.61 per cent. of the total. Overall, in that period, on average 0.61 per cent. of the total rain forest is being destroyed every year. In some countries in west Africa and Latin America, the rate has increased visibly since 1980, to the extent that the Gambia has lost 90 per cent. of its tropical rain forests. The situation there is catastrophic.

The Minister has answered questions on this subject many times in past debates. The main question concerns what can we do to influence the policies of the European Community, the World Bank, the international monetary fund and the foreign aid policies of the British Government. Much of the past development in Brazil of the Grand Carejas project was funded largely by loans from the World Bank and the European Community, which paid for cheap iron ore to be excavated, in order to pay for Brazil's debt. That also financed the destruction of much of the rain forest and the habitat of much wildlife and many people who lived in that area.

There are many examples of the IMF adopting a strategy of insisting that every poor country must produce its way out of debt--in other words, by going for export-led promotion of primary products, which has often led to the destruction of forest. It is short-sighted and inefficient. I have three quite graphic personal examples produced by the Sierra Club, the club of people acting as global environmental monitors on what the World Bank is doing. It quotes a man called Renato in Brazil, who could not believe his luck when he was given 100 hectares of rain forest to clear. The problem was that, after he had cleared

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it, as his friends also found, they produced good crops for a couple of years, but the soil was unsustainable for future crops, and the land turned into desert.

In Botswana, massive grazing was introduced for developing a cattle industry. The grazing took place, but that led to desertification as the forests were cut down to promote it. In Java, Indonesia, people from the city were given two or three hectares each to produce crops, but the deforestation led to local climatic changes, which led to serious problems of leaching of the soil, and subsequent infertility, and desertification.

For each country concerned, it is disastrous. For the individuals concerned, be they the indigenous peoples of the Amazon or the farmers encouraged to move into those places, it is disastrous, but for the planet as a whole, it is doubly disastrous because we are losing many sources of wildlife and flora. We are losing a major producer of oxygen and replacing it with a major producer of carbon monoxide, which contributes to the global warming effect. We are looking for the strongest possible representations by the British Government for environmentally sensitive policies that protect the rain forests, and an understanding that, if we are to contribute to the world's environment, we cannot go on demanding such enormous debt repayments from the poorest countries and peoples. By doing so, we are contributing to the destruction of the planet on which we all rely for life. I know that the Minister has looked into this on many occasions, and that many changes are taking place in the attitudes of the IMF and his Ministry. We look forward to a much more robust performance in the future to protect the environment of the world and the people who live in it.

12.4 am

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Christopher Patten) : I welcome the opportunity to debate a subject of considerable global significance with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who I know feels very deeply about it. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) was able to intervene. The hon. Member for Linlithgow knows that I feel as strongly as he does about the subject. I visited the Oxford Forestry Institute for much of last Thursday and that visit increased my concern and interest. I greatly admire the work of that world-renowned institute and I hope that we shall be able to give it greater assistance in future.

I welcome the opportunity today to report the activity by my Department since the hon. Gentleman last raised the subject, in a debate on 13 March. On that occasion my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs set out the consequences of deforestation in the rain forests and elsewhere, and described our existing aid. Most importantly, he explained the outlines of the forestry initiative that we are undertaking in response to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's pledge to the House that

"we will direct more of our aid to encourage the wise and sustainable use of forest resources." [Official Report, 24 October 1988 ; Vol. 139, c. 15. ]

Since the last debate, the significance of my right hon. Friend's pledge has been reinforced by the seminar that she held on global climate change. Forest destruction contributes up to 20 per cent. of man's total carbon dioxide emissions--yet forests could provide a significant way of locking up carbon for lengthy periods and in that way alleviating global warming.

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Halting and reversing the current alarming rates of loss of all types of forest would thus benefit us all. Promoting alternative sustainable livelihoods for the desperately poor around the world who are currently forced to clear forests for agriculture would help them by stopping soil erosion, flooding and loss of soil fertility. Trying to halt the unsustainable destruction of rain forests has the added global benefit of preserving the world's richest store of genetic diversity. With the prospect of all those benefits, it is no wonder that we are devoting considerable effort to our forestry initiative. We are concentrating especially on the most important

facet--encouraging individual developing countries to direct more of our aid to forestry.

It is important that, before we spend money on projects, we should engage in dialogue with our partner Governments so that we agree the relative priority to be given to forestry within our relationship. Projects that do not meet the priorities of our partners are unlikely to be effective. As a prelude to that dialogue, my staff reviewed the possibilities and identified more than 20 countries where we are particularly well placed to help. The list is long because we in Britain are fortunate in the wealth of our tropical forestry expertise.

Since the last debate, dialogue with those countries has already resulted in an impressive amount of action. Most importantly, we have actually reached agreement with India on £40 million of new local costs aid for environmental projects. As the House might expect, given the high priority that India gives to forestry, we expect the bulk of this to be spent on forestry projects although it is also available for local costs incurred in helping India to adopt alternative strategies to the use of chlorofluorocarbons. I shall return to that point. We hope that the first project to benefit from the agreement will be a scheme to conserve the forests of western Ghats in Karnataka state of south western India. The western Ghats include the largest area of evergreen rain forest in India. The project will involve a joint effort by the local people and the Forest Department to reduce forest clearance, burning and grazing and to rehabilitate or replant degraded areas.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Brazil and asked about my recent meeting with Chiefs Payakan and Raoni. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Latin America is not in general a focal point for our aid programme. The poorest countries and the Commonwealth continue to be our first priority, but we are very conscious of the importance of Latin America's forests and we are actively seeking ways in which we can help.

We have had fruitful discussions with two very senior Brazilian officials, the Secretaries-General of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of the Interior. I shall be meeting Dr. Mesquita, director of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources, at the beginning of next month. The Brazilians think highly of the research being carried out by the Royal Geographical Society and others in the Maraca rain forest project, and they would like the ODA to do more in that area. As the hon. Gentleman said, this week a group of experts, led by my senior forestry adviser and including Dr. Prance, the distinguished director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, are visiting Brazil to discuss with institutions there how we could help.

One of the projects that our mission will be looking into is possible help for research on the effect of rain forest loss on climate and rainfall--a point to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow has drawn attention in the past.

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That is of particular concern to all of us. The group will also include an expert on urban environment, as the Brazilians are eager for us to help with the many problems of their huge and growing cities. It is reasonable that we should try to assist there as well as in the forests.

Mr. Dalyell : Is Tim Sinnott the urban environment expert?

Mr. Patten : I will give the hon. Gentleman further information on that later.

The Brazilians have not asked us for capital aid. I gather that they are likely to put forward proposals for support of that kind to the World Bank. Until our mission reports, I cannot say exactly what form our collaboration will take, but I am hoping to visit Brazil myself in July to carry matters forward. We give this issue priority. I have not only met Brazilian officials. I have also had meetings with the Indian Chiefs Raoni and Payakan, who have vividly, movingly and with considerable dignity, told me of their problems and of the need to demarcate their reserves to save them from further exploitation. I emphasise that I have promised to consider positively any proposals that the British charity, the Rainforest Foundation, might put forward to us for joint funding.

In that context, I was delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman had discussed Amazonia with His Majesty the King of Spain. There is obviously a need for everyone to engage in dialogue with the countries of the Amazon basin about the global importance of their resources. Spain is especially well placed to help. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the European Community, in appropriate programmes, should take account of the environmental impact of development.

The mission to Brazil is not the only one that my staff are undertaking. A team has recently returned from Sri Lanka and is currently preparing proposals for a joint project with the World Bank aimed at research, forest management and reaforestation in the southern uplands. A team of experts are travelling to Indonesia this week to identify in discussion with the Government there areas in which we can provide further assistance.

We have also been active in west Africa. One of my forestry advisers took part in the tropical forestry action plan sector review in Cameroon in late April and was able to offer our support for a project in forest management and regeneration techniques as part of total donor pledges of more than $50 million. At present, there is little forest management or application of sustained yield principles in Cameroon, which contains twice as much utilisable lowland forest as the rest of west Africa.

Mr. Dalyell : I acknowledge the importance of west Africa, which the Minister knows well, but before the Minister leaves the subject of Asia, will he tell us whether, the delegation to Indonesia will also consider the questions of Papua New Guinea and Sarawak?

Mr. Patten : I am coming to Papua New Guinea shortly, if I have the opportunity. I have not exhausted the list of activities that are under way, but I had better turn to some of the other specific points raised by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman referred to relations between India and Nepal. We had a useful debate on that issue on 28 April, in which I made clear the Government's views. As both countries know, we very much hope they can reach a settlement satisfactory to both, before lasting damage is

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caused to the development and economy of Nepal--already one of the world's poorest nations. We are, of course, particularly disturbed by the delays and extra costs inflicted by this dispute on development projects of great importance to Nepal's future and the consequences for its forests. The World Bank is evaluating the effect of the dispute. There has been no evidence yet that special measures are necessary but, as always, we would look sympathetically on any request for help. I was able to discuss that issue informally with Nepal's distinguished Finance Minister in Beijing a couple of weeks ago.

Of course, Nepal's forest degradation long preceded the present dispute and forestry has had a high priority in our aid programme over the past 10 years. Our current commitments to forestry projects in Nepal are about £7 million. A forestry master plan for the development of the sector over the next 25 years is being discussed by the Government and donors. We have agreed that the ODA should build on our existing strengths in forestry research and large-scale community forestry programmes.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked about Papua New Guinea. My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade recently met Mr. Philemon Embel, who described the existing structure of forest management, logging, export from and replanting in Papua New Guinea. I understand that efforts are being made to ensure that appropriate re-afforestation takes place, in accordance with the country's laws, but that enforcement remains a problem. At present exports, which go mainly to Japan, consist primarily of logs, and little processing of timber is carried out in Papua New Guinea itself. During the short meeting, Mr. Embel made no specific request for assistance from the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

As hon. Members will appreciate, Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the international tropical timber agreement. I look forward to hearing a report of the discussions this week at the ITTO council meeting in Abidjan. It is of vital importance to all who care about the rain forest that the International Tropical Timber Organisation should reach agreement on codes of conduct for the sustainable management of commercial logging. That is the only way to ensure that the resource will still be available for our grandchildren. The hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned the World Bank. Since its reorganisation in 1987, the bank has significantly expanded its environmental work, with special attention being paid to the threat of deforestation.

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In the bank's last financial year, it made nearly $170 million of new commitments for forestry projects, including conservation. The hon. Gentleman referred in passing to climate research. Man-made climate change is possibly the greatest challenge to the principle of sustainable development. That is one reason why we attach such importance to the work of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Dr. John Houghton, director general of the Meteorological Office, chairs the scientific assessment working group of the IPCC. The Government fund plenary meetings of the group and have made available a further £665,000 for a special centre and staff. This is the largest international review ever undertaken. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the research now taking place in this country.

We do not believe that panic measures are justified, but equally we agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow that it is not enough simply to sit back and wait for our research programmes to bear fruit. To have any real effect, our responses must be internationally agreed and implemented, and they must recognise the difference between countries. It is with this in mind that we have recently called for the urgent consideration of a framework convention on climate change.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow drew attention to an article in the New Scientist about the Helsinki conference. That article is worth a whole debate. My views on the issues raised form the basis of an hour's lecture that I gave in Cambridge, a copy of which is available in the Library. All that I would like to say now is that the opposition of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and of other Ministers present at the conference, to a common fund for CFC replacement projects was based in part on the fact that the bureaucratic process needed to set one up would delay the practical help that we could provide under the bilateral aid programme. As I said earlier we have already offered such help to India. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read my right hon. Friend's statement, and I will ask that it be placed in the Library. I have no doubt that, as the hon. Gentleman said, we have to help countries such as India, China and Brazil to cope with CFC substitution as well as with the problems of forestry to which the hon. Gentleman has eloquently referred again today.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.

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